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New Zealand’s 20 Toughest PR Jobs For 2020

Press Release – BlacklandPR

Communicating the Covid -19 lockdown levels was the toughest PR challenge for 2020.

In a first for the annual rankings issued by BlacklandPR, the lockdown levels received a ‘perfect storm’ score of the highest possible public profile combined with the strongest possible emotional reaction, impact and complexity.

The euthanasia referendum and panic buying at supermarkets were second and third hardest communications challenges for 2020.

“Preparing the nation for Covid 19 lockdowns required juggling a perfect storm of practical and psychological factors,” said Blackland PR director Nick Gowland.

“National and regional lockdowns had never been done before, so explaining why the decision was made and what you’re asking people to do would vex the most seasoned PR pro.

“It was especially gnarly PR challenge; overcoming fear, communicating complex ideas and science, without enough information and with local and global events changing at speed.

“This was a challenge of anticipating five million different reactions to the information being communicated and finding ways to persuade every person. Every single person would have a different motivation, and willingness, to adhere to the stay-at-home order.”

BlacklandPR uses a scoring system that ranks issues out of 10 for four factors – Impact (how many people are consciously affected directly or indirectly), Profile (media coverage and ‘talkability’ in everyday life), Emotion (the intensity of emotional reaction), and Complexity (complications and technicalities of the issue).

In previous years BlacklandPR’s PR Challenges list has been headed by events such as Roastbusters, the Fonterra botulism issue, the Flag Referendum and the Capital Gains Tax.

Covid-19 issues left to Government to take responsibility for

Mr Gowland said Covid 19 threw up many communications challenges for government and private companies. Seven Covid-related communications challenges were in the top 20, including panic buying at supermarkets which ranked third.

“The March panic buying was a very high profile and emotive communications challenge, but it wasn’t all that complex.

“The lesson for organisations wanting to reassure desperate customers is do more than just say things are fine. Lack of clarity intensifies people’s fears. Use fewer words, give plenty of visual evidence and offer clear instructions on what people need to do.”

Many private organisations were also able to ‘cede’ responsibility to Government to handle their Covid issues, Mr Gowland said.

“Governments get involved on most of the big issues of the day as they are such an important player in people’s day to day lives.

“This year it increased its leadership of other sectors and issues because the stakes were so high. We’d bet some of these organisations are thanking their lucky stars the Government stepped in to do their communicating for them.

“A few organisations did have to lead their own Covid-related communications. Air New Zealand’s customer refunds and the supply chain issues Ports of Auckland was felt by many New Zealanders. These challenges have added complexity because the commercial futures of both companies were in play.”

The intensity of people’s emotional reactions to Covid-19 and its talkability, meant other issues that would normally rank highly were buried from people’s attention.

“In a normal year issues like Auckland Light Rail, cyber-attacks, food poisoning and the closure of Concert FM would be much more discussed and debated in public. What mattered in the few months leading up to March was pushed aside and quickly faded from people’s memories.”

Referendums defined by personal connection

“Euthanasia was an exceptionally tough communications challenge for opponents because so many of the public were personally motivated to support the End of Life Choice bill.

“They were up against 20 years’ worth of political and news media attention on the issue. Many Kiwis related to the idea that one day they might be terminally ill and would like the choice of being able to end their lives.

“The weed referendum didn’t have that. A sizeable proportion of the population would likely never have tried weed or ever imagine themselves as being a regular user. People’s relatability to the issue being voted on is an important factor in the referendums’ different outcomes.”

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